Angels of Light & Akron/Family | Reviewinescapably infectious January '06
Angels of Light & Akron/Family
Let me see if I got this all straight. The four guys who make up Akron/Family are the same four guys who made (make?) up composer Michael Gira's (Swan) latest Angels of Light backing band. And after touring with them, Gira decided he had to record them, and thus their debut album on Young God Records. I think that's it in a nutshell, historically. But where did Akron/Family come from? While their music suggests that they sprung magically from a dusty record bin in a vintage vinyl store, in fact they come from Williamsport, Pennsylvania (Seth Olinsky & Dana Janssen, various instruments, vocals), Porterville, California (Miles Seaton, various instruments, vocals), and Union Springs New York (Ryan Vanderhoof, various instruments, vocals) respectively. And from these far-flung locations they came to New York City in search of the "thread of real magic still winding through this city's music scene."
It's important to note at this time that they are not a family band, as is most likely evident from the 4 different surnames, and they are not from anyplace called Akron. Ok, now that we understood who they are and where, physically, they come from, let's really start to examine what it is Akron/Family & Angel of Light do. I hope you noted in the descriptions above, all four members are listed as simply playing "various instruments" and performing vocals. And these guys take "various instruments" to a new height. Encased within their songs are your standard guitars (strummed and crunched), percussion and bass but also chest-thumping, heavy breathing, creaking chairs, various world instruments and, for all I know, the kitchen sink. The other thing they add is a stunning array of 2, 3 and 4 part vocal harmonies that would make the Mormon Tabernacle Choir slink away in disgrace.
What they do with this cacophony of instrumentation is create the most unique, eclectic, challenging and intelligent progressive folk/psychedelic/folk/americana rock album I have ever heard. With the first 7 songs listed as Akron/Family and the last 5 listed as Angels of Light I'm going to divide them similarly. As Akron/Family, every song elevates the listener in to heretofore unknown heights of musical expression. "Moment" begins with a clattering distorted blender of sounds, much like the climactic ending to a raging metal song, from which it emerges into a mantra-like marching song, complete with accompanied and seemingly random exclamations and an unforgettable echoing guitar riff. "Future Myth" is a soaring psychedelic masterpiece with overtones of Lennonesque sound experimentation, hints of Genesis-like soundscapes and peaceful harmonized 60s BritPop vocals that hint at mystical lyrics. "Oceanside," another one of my favorites, is a gentle, minimalist folk song that builds, somewhat, into alt-country bridges and is full of vivid lyrical imagery.
Entering into Angels of Light territory, you are immediately welcomed by the country-tinged Dylan cover "I Pity the Poor Immigrant," a sorrowful ballad overflowing with beautiful slide guitar and angelic background choruses that hover in the distance. From there I was very much grabbed by the seemingly impromptu performance of "One for Hope." Harkening back to the very early folk sounds of David Bowie (think 1967 and "Wild-Eyed Boy from Freecloud") it is inescapably infectious and fades out in a beautiful chanting harmony. This leads into the afro-beat "Mother/Father," a primitively engaging song. And finally there is "Come for My Woman," a psychedelic alt-country gem filled with swelling crescendos and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" backing vocals that suddenly explodes into a frenzied jazz-fusion climax.
It is, simply, the most complete "rock" album I've ever had the pleasure to hear. Combining all that was good about rock in the 60s and 70s with the fearlessness of the dispossessed, the avant-garde focus of the indie-folk scene and a mind-expanding, globe trotting sense of adventure, Akron/Family & Angels of Lights has written the best Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, David Bowie, Roky Erickson, John Fahey, Sufjan Stevens, Doc Watson album ever made. You must do everything in your power to find and hear this album, except try and take my copy. You'd have to pry it from my cold dead hands.